A recent Washington Post and Kaiser Family Foundation survey found that black women are heavier and happier with their bodies than white women are. It is common knowledge in the Diaspora that women with a "little meat on their bones" are desirable and considered sexy. The findings of the survey aren't that earth-shattering for black people.
I suppose it is a good thing that other communities know that we black women actually like ourselves despite the hell many of us catch for not naturally satisfying dominant standards of beauty that oppose pretty much everything we physically represent.
I do find it interesting that these results are coming out at the same time that Angelina Jolie is being celebrated for being the epitome of beauty at the 84th Annual Academy Awards ceremony held this past weekend. Call me crazy, but she looked like a corpse, sticking out a leg that resembled an arm from her couture dress, which was all the rage.
Simultaneously, Kate Upton has been catching heat from fashion-industry divas for being too "chubby" to be a swimsuit model, despite her celebrated Sports Illustrated cover. Call me crazy again, but Upton looked great on that cover. Add the occasion of Academy Award winner Octavia Spencer being asked about her weight directly after her win for best supporting actress for The Help, and it's clear that we have a body image problem.
Spencer has been outspoken about her weight, opening up to People magazine about it on numerous occasions. She admits that she could stand to lose 15 pounds and knows that she is less valuable in Hollywood at her current weight (and age, I would add). Just before the Academy Awards, Spencer announced that she would be getting a breast lift.
Spencer's desire for a breast lift is far from scandalous. It is a woman's right to augment her body in any way she sees fit, even if she ends up looking like Jessica Rabbit. What is interesting, though, is that despite the recent findings of the Washington Post-Kaiser survey, black female celebrities like Spencer seem to be less than happy with their bodies.
Lil' Kim, Vivica A. Fox and Tamar Braxton have all morphed into Muppet-like figures, looking like shells of their former selves rather than real people. All of the ladies were extremely attractive before undergoing and overdoing plastic surgery. If "civilian" black women are happy with themselves, then what's going on with black celebrities?
Is being part of an industry where women who look hungry (Jolie), unnaturally thin (LeAnn Rimes), shredded (Madonna) and emaciated (Demi Moore) negatively affecting the high self-esteem that numerous studies show black women have even when heavier? Jada Pinkett Smith's cheekbones appear to be implants, although some say they seem sharper because of severe weight loss. If they are implants, what is going on when someone as beautiful as Pinkett Smith would alter her looks and already fabulous cheekbones to such an extent? I won't even mention the grinding down of broad noses to nostrils (Janet Jackson) or the butt implants (Nicki Minaj) that look as painful as they are ridiculous.
What is happening in Hollywood when black female celebrities are mutilating themselves and not getting any additional mileage out of their careers from the "tweaking"? How will their distorted bodies affect little black girls who are struggling to define themselves in an increasingly mediated society?
While it is a good thing that black women like themselves despite the way we are often demonized by mainstream media for being heavier or more voluptuous than some others, it doesn't mean that all black women feel this way or that no black women suffer from body image issues. One has only to look toward Hollywood to see that constantly having to measure oneself against a standard of beauty you will never naturally meet can have major consequences. That challenge is just plain ugly.
Nsenga K. Burton, Ph.D., is editor-at-large for The Root. Follow her on Twitter.
Nsenga K. Burton, Ph.D., a media scholar, is digital editor in chief at Grady Newsource and a faculty member of the Cox Institute of Journalism, Innovation, Management & Leadership at the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Georgia. She is founder and editor in chief of the award-winning news blog the Burton Wire. Follow her on Twitter here or here.